Groundwater: Quality Degradation and Water Pollution

  • Abdulrahman S. Alsharhan
  • Zeinelabidin E. Rizk
Part of the World Water Resources book series (WWR, volume 3)


Karstic nature and unconfinement are the main factors making fresh groundwater resources in the UAE susceptible to receiving a large flux of contaminants from point and nonpoint sources on the land surface.

Recent investigations into the Wadi Al Bih limestone aquifer in the northern UAE indicated that the aquifer is highly sensitive to urban and agricultural development, and several wells were reported to contains Coliform bacteria in the Wadi Al Bih and Al Burayrat areas (Rizk et al. J Res Environ Earth Sci 3(3):1–14, 2017).

Groundwater pollution in the western gravel aquifer of Al Ain area is a result of the infiltration of industrial waste and sewage effluents from residential areas. The high concentration of Zn and Fe are attributed to well-construction materials, while high Cr is a result of the weathering of mafic minerals in the eastern mountain ranges or due to the use of animal waste on farmlands. Rizk and Alsharhan (Water resources in the United Arab Emirates. In: Alsharhan AS, Wood WW (eds) Water management perspectives: evaluation, management and policy. Elsevier Science, Amsterdam, pp 245–264, 2003) applied remote sensing and GIS techniques and showed that intensive farming and other human activities are the main pollution sources for the gravel aquifers in the eastern UAE.

Methane gas was detected in water wells and springs tapping the ophiolite aquifer in the northeastern UAE, as a result of serpentinization of peridotite rocks forming the aquifer. This abiotic gas could contaminate the natural-gas fields in large sedimentary basins overthrusted by the ophiolite sequence.

Results of groundwater-flow and solute-transport models of the eastern gravel aquifer, conducted by Sherif et al. (Desalination 273(2):436–446, 2011, J Hydrol 464–465:186–198, 2012 and J Hydrol Eng 19:855–866, 2014), indicated that the saltwater intrusion problem has sharply increased during the last 20 years, due to excessive groundwater pumping and limited natural recharge. In an effort to stop further deterioration of groundwater quality, groundwater pumping for domestic purposes from several well fields has been decreased, and groundwater was replaced by desalinated water.

Major ions chemistry and nitrate isotopes (15N and 18O) in 22 groundwater samples indicated that fertilizers are the main source of nitrate in the Liwa Quaternary sand aquifer. A few samples are consistent with residential sources. The dominance of a CaSO4 water type supports the agricultural source of the nitrate, while the high NaCl water type is associated with residential land use.

The Quaternary sand aquifer in the northern UAE is free and receives a large flux of pollutants from the land surface. Based on field investigation and lab analysis of groundwater samples, Al-Hogaraty et al. (2008) detected high concentrations of total dissolved solids anions, cations and trace elements in areas close to pollution sources. These anomalies assisted in delineation of the groundwater–seawater interface in the Ajman area.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Abdulrahman S. Alsharhan
    • 1
  • Zeinelabidin E. Rizk
    • 2
  1. 1.Middle East Geological and Environmental EstablishmentDubaiUnited Arab Emirates
  2. 2.University of Science and Technology of FujairahFujairahUnited Arab Emirates

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